Manuel Valls
Manuel Valls Reuters

France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Thursday that he "condemned with the greatest strength" a decision by three French lawmakers to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he described as "a butcher."

"I want to condemn this initiative with the greatest strength," Valls told TV station BFMTV.

"For parliamentarians to go without warning to meet a butcher.... I think it was a moral failing."

A cross-party group of four French lawmakers made an unofficial trip to the Syrian capital Damascus on Wednesday,  AFP reported, and held talks with senior ministers.

Three of the MPs - not including one from the ruling Socialist party - met with the Syrian leader.

"We met Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well," Jacques Myard, an MP from the opposition UMP party, told AFP.

He described the trip as "a personal mission to see what is going on, to hear, listen."

"I condemn this initiative. I condemn it because it is a meeting between French lawmakers who have taken it upon themselves to meet with a dictator who is the cause of one of the worst civil wars of recent years," Hollande told reporters in the Philippines.

France cut diplomatic ties with Syria in 2012 and supports the moderate Syrian opposition, seeking the removal of Assad from power.

Myard refused to reveal the content of the talks, but Syrian state television said they had discussed "the state of Syrian-French relations, as well as the developments in the Arab world and Europe, especially with regard to terrorism."

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, the civil war in Syria has left more than 200,000 people dead.